Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, January 14, 2018
“The best things come to those who wait.” Maybe, but to my way of thinking the jury is still out on this one. The line originated in an advertisement for Heinz ketchup. Because the ketchup is thick, you have to wait for it to come out — and supposedly it is worth waiting for.
In my little world, I want what I want, and I want it yesterday. However, some science suggests that this particular personality characteristic may be counterproductive to real success — that the hyper speed of today can actually stifle innovation rather than promote it. That is the thesis of Jason Farman, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, and the author of “Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting.”
Farman starts with the Old West and how we used to communicate, how we sent messages by Pony Express, with the inevitable delays (Indians for one). Then he turns to the Civil War, during which time an unprecedented volume of mail (letters sent with a 3-cent stamp) were created and delivered. The soldiers wanted to say their goodbyes to their loved ones, just in case they got shot and died. “Messages were a fundamental component of American history.”
But speed can kill. How many times have you hit “reply all” too quickly and by mistake, as well as tweeted the opinion that you have instantly regretted? It is the compression of time (texts) coupled with the implicit demand to act — immediately, impulsively and often stupidly.
My pal Dan Kahneman wrote a book on the subject of decision making. His premise was that some decisions can be made instantly, and some need to bake for a while. It is what he called “thinking, fast and slow,” and knowing which is which is critical.
Farman argues that delays in responding are inherent in how we connect, and that this pause or lack thereof, impacts not only military history (weapons of mass destruction), but also human intimacy (Tinder). Farman says, “almost across the board in Western culture, we experience delays and waiting as a disruption to our lives.” The ways we react to “being made to wait” are various, ranging from airplanes (no good reason to take off with ice on the wings) to restaurant service (adjust the tip), etc.
History has been shaped by impatience. Farman cites King Henry VIII, who appealed to the pope on a matter (he wanted a divorce) and when the pope delayed his response (exercising his power and authority by making the king wait), Henry just told him goodbye, left the Catholic Church and started the Church of England. Take that.
The issue here is about how we interpret the apparent lack of responsiveness. “Delays become really complicated when conflated with issues of power and authority.” I have written often about how hard it is to wait — to not pick up the phone and ask or beg or threaten, to not send the email that exhibits petulance and draws a line in the sand when there is no sand. Sometimes it’s better to delay decisions until they have to be made, to truly manage and manipulate time and timing. Farman argues that “pauses are really essential for us to have a sense of emotional well-being.” Patience might be a virtue — but it is not one that comes easily to the entrepreneur.
It was during the Industrial Revolution that America first came to explore the relationship between work and time. (Think punch cards). The work/life balance was becoming blurred. In the late 1890s, the pneumatic tube arrived. Data was being sent rapidly underground from post office to post office. Then, when these tubes arrived in newspaper offices, on Wall Street — it was the advent of instant messaging, and the concomitant expectation of instant response. Today we have text messaging. Welcome to the pneumatic tube of 2019: “What took you so long to get back to me?”
Farman suggests that our culture rewards the moral imperative to use time wisely. (I hear my mother). But while I maintain a strong sense of urgency, I am also deeply aware that the pause button has incredible value. The trick is knowing when to push it.
Farman asks, “What do we lose today if we lose waiting?” My answer is simple — your mind.
Rule No. 592
ASAP — (when I am good and ready).